Syria threatens to target rebels in Lebanon

Two years into conflict, risk of spill-over grows on daily basis

‘The purpose is to overcome the Syrian crisis without Lebanon being sucked in’ stated Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman. Photograph: Luc  Gnago (Reuters)

‘The purpose is to overcome the Syrian crisis without Lebanon being sucked in’ stated Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman. Photograph: Luc Gnago (Reuters)

Sat, Mar 16, 2013, 00:00

On the second anniversary of the Syrian conflict, the government threatened to mount strikes on rebels in Lebanon if they continue to smuggle weapons and mount raids on the army from Lebanese territory.

“Armed terrorist groups have infiltrated in large numbers in the past 36 hours,” Syrian’s foreign ministry stated in a letter to the Lebanese ministry. Clashes between the army and rebels were ongoing. Damascus said Syria would not exercise restraint indefinitely.

Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman responded by saying the country “must not be a route for weapons or a base for training [rebel] fighters, no matter which side they are on”.

“Neutrality is useful for Lebanon and Syria. The purpose is to overcome the Syrian crisis without Lebanon being sucked in.”

He expressed the hope that there would be a UN-brokered political solution.

Damascus’ warning coincided with a unanimous expression of serious concern by the UN Security Council over the impact of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon. The council appealed to all Lebanese parties to respect the country’s “policy of disassociation and to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis”.

Since unrest erupted in Syria, Lebanon has served as a conduit for foreign fundamentalist fighters and weapons for rebels who move easily across the country’s long border with Syria.

Syria’s government marked the anniversary by stepping up security in the capital while Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, the dominant faction in the opposition, called for a week of attacks, protests and international solidarity with the Syrian people.

Supreme military council commander General Salim Idriss said his forces would carry on fighting until Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was ousted and called on government troops to join the rebellion.

“We have to fight against planes, tanks and missiles but our will is very strong,” he announced, reportedly, from an undisclosed location in Syria.

The conflict began with a prank played by a dozen teenagers in the southern city of Deraa. They scrawled the slogan of the Egypt ian uprising – “The people want the end of the regime” – on school walls. When the boys were detained and beaten, their families protested.

Four people were killed and several wounded, sparking popular demonstrations, a crackdown and conflict.

Meanwhile, Robert Mardini, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, urged the international community to press combatants to halt attacks on civilians and aid workers. He said: “ . . . ongoing violations of international humanitarian law must stop”.

The UN says 70,000 Syrians have been killed, 2.5 million internally displaced and one million driven into neighbouring countries in the past two years of conflict. .